Friday, April 13, 2012

J-Camera: The Making Of Mini-Masterpiece

Gearing up for vacation these days means packing your digital SLR, sleek-and-pink point-and-shoot, HD video camera, smart phone, all of the cords and chargers and computers that make them functional, and perhaps, for safety, a travel diary and/or sketch pad. Before you’re out the door with money/tickets/passport in hand, you’ve probably snapped half-a-dozen artfully Instagram-ed shots, capturing minutes of minutia before the real adventure begins.

Preparing for j-CATION 2012: Sakura, Ben Warren, video producer for Japan Society, took many more than a half a dozen pictures. He took about 3,600.

Ben wanted to do something extra special to raise awareness for the Society’s cherry blossom themed all-day culture festival, and what better way to capture the fleeting, fluttering flurry of falling sakura, than the painstaking picture-perfect craft of stop motion animation?

The resulting two-and-a-half minute short film is a fantastical living travel diary, drawing inspiration from Japanese culture from past to current pop trends.

Weeks ago Ben (who is also the mastermind behind the very first j-CATION’s flying laser kitty promo video--in which he has a cameo), and a team of amateur animators, including several enthusiastic Japan Society interns and one friend, began the estimated 70-hour project. The idea bloomed from the sakura theme into five distinct segments using a variety of mixed media: paper, fabric, paint, toys, food and their containers, buttons and art objects galore.

The animation opens with a string of lit lanterns parting to reveal a “j-CATON 2012” travel diary. The book unfolds, an acorn drops, and sesame seads burst from green yarn grass to form a sakura tree. A close up of a branch shows blossoming pink construction paper petals torn into the wind, making surprise appearances throughout the video.

In a short, delicate interlude, a cup of green tea dances and swirls atop antiqued calligraphy scrolls. The middle mouthwatering section centers around a brimming bento box (crafted from wrappers of the candy and food that kept the animators going). After marching to their designated compartments, the feast wraps itself in a furoshiki from Japan Society’s 2007 centennial celebration, and is whisked away by a pair of chopsticks.

Next, a wistful, watercolor ‘floating world’ style painting brushes and bubbles to life with familiar classic Japanese art iconography—a sea escape scene at the base of Mt. Fuji capturing the timeless battle between fisherman and giant carp (to create the water effect, the dozens and dozens of waves were individually finger painted in each frame--24 frames per second for 12 seconds).

Finally, after an origami explosion of stars, a flight of chirpy birds over fluffy cotton ball clouds, and stately strut of cranes, day dips into night while a family sits beneath a sakura tree to revel in a traditional night time cherry blossom viewing party.

A simple story, exquisitely executed, masterfully mirroring the j-CATION experience.

QUIZ: Ben and crew referenced dozens of ancient and contemporary Japanese elements. Can you name them all? Answers after the laser kitty photo.

--Shannon Jowett

In order of appearance: washi, maneki-neko, origami, sakura, hanami, shodo, ocha, miruku, sushi, Yakult, UCC Coffee, Fibe Mini, wagashi, ukiyo-e, bijinga, obento, Pocky, taiyaki , furoshiki, waribashi, kaiga, hanko, Fuji-san, mizuumi, Kitaro, gyosen, koi, tsuru, kappa, Kitty-chan, yozakura. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!

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